Spotlight on Genetic Counselors in the Fetal Medicine Institute

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Genetic counselors are board-certified health professionals with specialized graduate degrees, training, and experience in medical genetics and counseling.

The Fetal Medicine Institute at Children’s National Health System has three genetic counselors dedicated to prenatal patients.

In the Fetal Medicine Institute at Children’s National, we evaluate high-risk pregnancies in order to share information with families regarding potential fetal abnormalities. Our team aids in the prenatal diagnosis of birth defects with specialized fetal imaging, providing consultations with pediatric subspecialists all in one day. The goal is for patients to get more information to better prepare them for prenatal and postnatal planning. Genetic counselors play a key role in our patients’ experience by guiding them through every step of the process. We continue to support families throughout pregnancy, delivery, and the initial postnatal appointments.

The primary role of a prenatal genetic counselor is to help parents understand complex information about their pregnancies, and to help them make informed decisions about prenatal and/or postnatal care based on this information.

“Learning that your unborn child may have a serious health issue is stressful, confusing, and scary,” said Meg Menzel, MS, CGC, a genetic counselor in the Fetal Medicine Institute. “Our role is to help our pregnant patients make sense of all aspects of the complex information they receive. Each patient has a dedicated genetic counselor to help them through these difficult decisions.”

Our genetic counselors help families answer three main questions:
  1. Why did this happen and will it happen again? 
    • Solution: Genetic counselors will interpret imaging and genetic testing results in combination with the family and medical histories to assess the chance of recurrence when possible. 
  2. What are next steps? 
    • Solution: Genetic counselors will educate families about testing options, pregnancy management, resources, and support.
  3. What decisions should we make? 
    • Solution: Genetic counselors guide couples to help them understand all aspects of the prenatal diagnosis, deal with any uncertainties, and make the most informed decisions possible for their family.

“Many parents come to us with questions and concerns about how to handle the uncertainty in a current and/or future pregnancy,” said Anne Lawrence, CGC, a genetic counselor in the Fetal Medicine Institute. “Our job is to listen to their concerns, answer their questions, inform them of genetic testing options, guide them in decision making regarding pregnancy management, and provide them with resources for additional information and support.”

Some of the resources genetic counselors provide include connecting patients with our certified child life specialists and chaplains, referring them to support groups, connecting families with other families who’ve dealt with a similar diagnosis, and providing other community resources including counseling.

“There are so many great community resources to help support families. Information is power if it comes from the right source,” said Kate Cilli, CGC, a genetic counselor in the Fetal Medicine Institute. “We want our patient families to leave meetings with us feeling empowered and confident in their decisions.”

For more information about what genetic counselors do, visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors website.


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